Logo Click BACK to return to Basecamp
Lost Teachers
Search Info
White beveled edge

Meet Stephen

Stephen Archive



Skyscrapers go BOOM!: A Harrowing Tale of Reaganomics

At the doorsteps of Trump Tower (one of New York City's most prestigious address)  and the symbol of 80's fortune finding

On the floor indicator light above the elevator door, the number '2' changes to a '12' in the blink of an eye. The Empire State Building elevator bounds upward at least 10 floors at a time and the swift change in altitude causes the ears to pop. The elevator leaves its passengers out a few stories below the 86th floor Observatory Deck where one of the most spectacular, panoramic views of New York City extends outward from the center of downtown Manhattan.
The construction of skyscrapers symbolized the growth of business in the 80s

The Empire State building may have been completed in 1930, but skyscrapers like it did not have their heyday until the 1980s. It was then that they took over the landscape of American cities and revealed that the free love, protest, and solidarity of the 60s and 70s was being replaced by business interests and a quest for fortune.

From 1980 to 1982, the United States was in the midst of its worst economic recession since World War II. In order to combat the downturn in the economy, President Ronald Reagan cut taxes in all sectors of society hoping to inspire businesses and monied individuals to spend and build and invest. The philosophy behind this economic policy was that by creating tax breaks, the subsequent benefits of new economic growth would 'trickle down' into the poorer sectors, create jobs, and form a wealthier society overall. This 'trickle down' approach to economic policy became known as Reaganomics and made the 80's a very good time to be rich.


To go or not to go, that was my question

Businesses and wealthy Americans reacted to the tax breaks. They turned the recession around and created one of the most memorable periods of economic growth in US history. Successful businessmen became cultural icons. Real estate developer, Donald Trump, for example, amassed a vast supply of property in New York City, earned a fortune beyond 2 billion dollars, and entered into the realm of American 'royalty'. He and the 50 other men who became billionaires at the time began to symbolize what many consider an era of wealth, prestige, and power.

While incomes among America's wealthiest sectors increased by over 246%, what happened to the working class and the poor??!! They received tax-breaks too, right?

Fresh from an underground trek in the country's oldest subway!
Indeed they did. However, along with tax breaks, Reaganomics mandated a reduction in government funding for social programs for health, education, senior citizens, pregnant women, welfare, and the environment. Tax cuts were of little benefit for a people who had to account for new costs of social services like health care.

On top of that, the mania of spending and wealth in the 80s NEVER 'trickled down' into the poorer sections of society. Wealthy businessmen and investors redistributed and reinvested wealth amongst themselves. Reaganomics also put a freeze on the minimum wage. In contrast to the wealthy sectors of the US, income levels for the working class remained steady in a constantly growing economy. As inflation grew year by year, the working class effectively became poorer and poorer.

Oh, goodness! Stephen's on look out for the Adirondacks from the heights of the Empire State Building

The hardened effects that Reaganomics had on working class lives made it a people's issue. The effects that it had on industry made it an environmental and health issue as well. In order to inspire growth and profit making, Reaganomics cut costs for industries much like it cut taxes for the rich. Reagan removed governmental controls over many industries and in doing so removed a government watchdog over industrial practices which had provided an impetus for environmental responsibility. Industries received a free license to pollute.

The Adirondacks region of upstate New York largely felt the effects of Reagan era environmental carelessness. The mountains and lakes of the Adirondacks comprise the largest state park in the US. Continually exposed to southwestern winds, everything in the atmosphere from the Midwest to the Great Lakes makes its way up to western regions of New York sooner or later.

The atmosphere in the Midwest is critically significant to the Adirondacks because the coal burning plants there emit nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides into the air. As these compounds enter the atmosphere, they form acids that are carried to the Adirondacks in clouds and that are eventually dropped in the environment in the form of acid rain. Trees rot, lakes die, and the natural life cycles become disrupted.

A lifetime resident of this park, Major Claude Bowes has seen the effects of acid rain from his front door at the Covewood Lodge on Big Moose Lake. He raised two daughters there in the Adirondacks and according to him, "they were sick the entire time they were growing up". In the search to find out what was wrong with them, Major Bowes discovered that their drinking water was carrying unhealthy levels of lead and copper. Apparently, the acidity of their water supply was so corrosive that it was eating away at their plumbing. Because lead and copper were being dissolved in to the water, "the family was drinking the pipes," he said.

It's smokestacks like these that are changing your planet forever
The Western Adirondacks and its people now have the Clean Air Act of 1990 to protect themselves from the environmental pollutants of midwestern industries. During the decade of deregulation however, they could only serve to show a more devastating and human side to the explosive 'progress' of Reagan's economic strategies.

This 80s business about Reaganomics, deregulation, and environmental abuse all happened before you were born or while you were very young, but if it seems like some crazy tale of mixed-up priorities that will never be repeated, think again. Consider California. There, the state is presently in an energy crisis because of none other than--you guessed it--deregulation. A handful of energy suppliers have lost their government funding and gone bankrupt, leaving Californians with hefty bills and no power.


Using the current energy crisis in California, President Bush is arguing to explore oil-drilling options in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to increase the country's oil reserves. Environmentalists are concerned that oil drilling will upset the ecological balance of the area while Native American activists argue that the project will negatively impact if not destroy Native American tribes that rely on the area for food.

Puzzling. At the brink of supporting business and economic development over environmental and human interests, has the US really evolved from its history in the 1980s?


Please email me at: stephen@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne- the 444 days hostages were held in Iran
Jennifer - What the heck is OPEC? And how does it affect me?
Neda - CREEP-ing around Watergate ruined President Nixon
Stephanie -The frigid blast of military might known as the Cold War
Daphne - Mary Jane and Jack Daniels can really screw you up
Nick - A deadly bullet and a mishandled trial: Dark days for America
Making A Difference - America: home of the free and the brave?
Stephen - Hey! Pass some of that cold cash with acid rain garnish my way